Greg LaPrad Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe The Farm at South Mountain 6106 S. 32nd Street, Phoenix 602-276-0601 (Q), 602-276-8804 (MG), quiessencerestaurant.com, morningglorycafeaz. com
This is part one of my interview with Greg LaPrad, chef-owner of Quiessence Restaurant & Wine Bar and Morning Glory Cafe. Come back tomorrow when LaPrad dishes about Quiessence's resident ghost and gives a hilarious answer to the "last meal on earth" question.
Greg LaPrad seems about as far from a Type-A personality as a guy can get, and yet, it wouldn't be inaccurate to call him driven, given that he started running the kitchen at Quiessence when he was 23 and bought the place when he was 26. Standing at seven feet and carrying himself in the slightly hunched-over fashion that tall people often do, he's been described as a gentle giant, and in many ways, the moniker fits. He's quiet and a little shy, a deeply intelligent person whose stature would be imposing if he didn't speak and move with such utter calm. A celebrity chef he is not, shunning the limelight of TV and reluctantly schmoozing with restaurant guests simply because he's much, much happier
hiding out staying in the kitchen.
It's a place he's always spent a lot of time, cooking hearty Italian-American meals with his father (who inherited the cooking gene from his own Italian mother) or watching cooking shows on TV. He knew he wanted to be a chef by the time he was 12, but in an effort to please his father (an aeronautics engineer) he studied physics and engineering at Embry-Riddle, planning to be a pilot until 9/11 shook up the aeronautics industry to such a degree that LaPrad could gracefully bow out.
He applied to Johnson & Wales (having thoroughly researched it when he was 12) and took his studies there seriously, earning a 4.0 while working in various restaurants nearby. Eager to earn an externship in Europe when he graduated, he took an interim externship at Devon Yacht Club in The Hamptons, where he learned from the abundant talent around him. But it was his externship at Il Bottaccio in Tuscany the following year that shaped his career. Here, fresh fish was bought right off the boat, while farmers brought their cheeses wrapped in hay. "I didn't understand Italian food until I was over there," LaPrad explains, "I knew Italian-American, but the two are vastly different."
Back in the States in 2004, he took a beginning position at Michael's at the Citadel . Michael DeMaria took LaPrad under his wing, and the two worked side by side doing parties and special events. "He was a meticulous person, so it was high pressure," LaPrad says, but he stayed for nearly a year, moving to Alaska to take a summer job at McKinley Lodge (where he and a chef-friend from Michael's practically ran the place). Back in AZ, he landed a gig as lead line cook at Quessence under executive chef Brian Ford.
At that time, the restaurant wasn't fully committed to farm-to-table (few were), but once Tony Andiario (another Michael's alum) came on board and the two friends made the pilgrimage to Chez Panisse, everything took off from there. LaPrad lauds Pat Christofolo (who now owns the farm but owned Santa Barbara Catering and Quiessence at the time) for having faith and giving a young chef the latitude to create his own very personal vision of American Farmhouse cuisine. LaPrad bought Quiessence and Morning Glory in 2008, and in the last five years he has turned the restaurant into a romantic dining destination, praised for its locally sourced ingredients, house-made charcuterie, hand-made pasta and hearth-baked bread.
Five words to describe you: Introvert, Sincere, Loyal, Demanding, Fair.
Five words to describe Quiessence: Authentic, Romantic, Warm, Passionate, Delicious.
Favorite cookbook and why: Favorite cookbook is hard. I have so many and love different ones for different reasons. The book that probably influenced me most is The French Laundry. I read it cover to cover -- as many cooks have; it made me believe in the pursuit of culinary excellence.
Name an ingredient you love to cook with and explain why: Wine and wine vinegars. They can brighten flavors, aromas, and umami appeal of many foods.
Most over-rated ingredient: Mango. Fresh ripe mango can be great, but the often hard unripe mango served in countless salsas or fish dishes to make it more tropical is not. It's also found a niche in countless packaged sauces, and condiments. If you want a mango hot sauce or mango bbq sauce, it's out there.
Most under-rated ingredient: Canned tomatoes. There are some excellent, high quality canned tomatoes that can be incredibly versatile in the kitchen.
Trend you like: More local food in grocery stores. Fry's even has a local food display in the produce section. Sure, they're using larger farms, but at least it's local and at least we know where it's coming from.
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Dish/trend or catch phrase you wish would go away and why: Cynical "foodies"/bloggers that spread vitriol, and attempt to report news by creating drama. There's really no place for that in our industry. We're people committed to hospitality. Sure, it's not always perfect or pretty, but I promise you that people pour their hearts into this field -- often for little financial reward. This (for many) is people's life-work. Have some respect and appreciation for the folks trying to make your life a bit more enjoyable. Give the "foodies" title back to the people that actually love food and dining!
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles